by Michel Forest, Opinion Contributor
Last Tuesday, January 8, 2019, the sale of the Pioneer Bar was finally officialized, thereby making promoter Greg Koegl the new owner of the building. In statements made to the press, Mr. Koegl has declared that he wishes to move ahead with his development project, which implies the demolition of the former Pointe-Claire Hotel and the elimination of the adjacent public parking lot. Mr. Koegl further informed the media that he plans to spend 15 million dollars in Pointe-Claire village and hopefully, by modifying his original project, to win over the citizens that have been opposing his condominium project. And so, the stage is finally set for the last act of a debate that will decide the future of Pointe-Claire Village.
As the present act closes, let it first be said that everyone should be pleased that Mrs. Marois, the former owner of the Pioneer, can finally walk away from this saga and enjoy her well-earned retirement. After all, she and her late husband did serve Pointe-Claire residents and visitors alike for 40 years, providing entertainment which was enjoyed by generations of music and good-time lovers. Recent efforts to discredit her handling of the Pioneer and its upkeep are unfortunate; they should not be used to belittle decades of contribution to the vitality of Pointe-Claire village. In reverse, I would say after reading this week that attempts on her part to place on local citizens the blame for the Pioneer’s demise as a business have no place either, as such a demise is a normal product of time when efforts to adjust to changing trends are limited or unsuccessful.
With this said, attention should now focus on the ongoing battle that is being fought in Pointe-Claire between the interest of real estate developers and the will of citizens to preserve the heritage components and special character and life of their village; between large financial interests and short-term gains on one side and socio-cultural values and long-term vision on the other. In this confrontation, we of the Société pour la Sauvegarde du Patrimoine de Pointe-Claire (SSPPC) remain clearly opposed to both the demolition of the former Hotel Pointe-Claire and to the construction at the village’s core of any project that would dwarf surrounding buildings or adversely impact the character of our unique historical sector.
In the end, this is a confrontation that will have to be decided by a mayor and a group of city councillors that find themselves placed in the role of arbitrators and eventual final decision makers in the matter. As such, their final ruling will be of significant interest as it will impact on the future not only of the City of Pointe-Claire, a more than 300-year-old Montreal Island community but also of all other Quebec cities with similar North American historical assets to protect and citizens’ issues to resolve.
Recent events in Chambly, where the 200-year-old “Maison Boileau” was demolished and in l’île-Verte where the 1823 “Petit-Sault” watermill was allowed to suffer major damages through neglect, have made it clear that Heritage protection has been losing ground in recent years in Québec and that this issue needs to be addressed. By the same token, citizens’ concerns with the multiplication of high-rise condo projects on a prime section of lands, which are changing the landscape enjoyed by all for the benefit of a privileged few, are concerns that warrant attention. The victory last September of Sutton residents over their elected official in efforts to protect their mountain from development projects clearly show that residents’ opinions matter. By inviting its citizens to new consultations that are presently ongoing on the by-laws applying to Pointe-Claire village’s future development, the City’s elected officials have demonstrated that they understand the importance of allowing issues to be discussed. What remains to be seen is whether or not frank direct exchanges will make any difference in the end.
This question is rendered all the more interesting and challenging by the fact that the Pioneer Bar/former Hotel Pointe-Claire is an old building in need of serious restoration work – an eyesore to some – which makes it easy to dismiss as lacking in true heritage value. The fact that its basement was flooded only weeks ago further encourages talk of demolition. When looking at its boarded façade, it is easy to forget that it was still open to the public only 6 months ago and, although maybe less profitable than in years past, still an attraction, as is has been for the last 117 years. If it were Stewart Hall, there would be no question that citizens are right to fight for its survival and restoration; but it isn’t. It has not benefited over the last 50 years from City support to ensure its daily upkeep. Had it had such luck, there possibly would be no confrontation today.
Although the comparison between a Hall and an old hotel turned bar may seem far-fetched to most, it should be remembered that Mull Hall, as Stewart Hall was originally named, a building 15 years younger than the Hotel Pointe-Claire, was up for sale in 1958 to a real-estate developer who planned to build a high-rise apartment building on its site. Were it not for the Stewart family members who purchased the property and donated it for a dollar and a promise to repair its roof to the City of Pointe-Claire, 50 years of clear benefits (sociocultural in nature rather than financial) would have been lost by its citizens. With a known alternate buyer ready to purchase, restore and re-open the Pioneer to the public, is there a lesson to be taken from the Stewart Hall story?
The conclusion of the Pioneer saga remains to be written but, with the sale of the building now concluded, we can wonder whether this will prove to be the simple “Final Sale” of a building or the first step in the sale of an entire village. There is no doubt that the decisions made in this case will influence the future of all other buildings in the village. Several beliefs are at odds here, such as the idea that “Everything has a price” on the one hand and that “Anything can be restored” and that “Where there is a will, there is a way” on the other. While our society fights for a pro-heritage conclusion, I invite everyone who has an interest in such matter to follow this story, or better yet to get involved while there is still time, for whatever comes of it will certainly have far-reaching impacts.
Michel Forest is the president of the Société pour la Sauvegarde du Patrimoine de Pointe-Claire (SSPPC, or Pointe-Claire Heritage Preservation Society); a group that was created by Pointe-Claire citizens to protect the endangered heritage of Pointe-Claire. Its mission is to protect the historical architectural and archaeological heritage of Pointe-Claire and to promote its development.
The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of the West Island Blog.